Saturday, June 15, 2019

Nature and Heritage Tour in Bulacan

Bulacan has always been a destination that I would want to explore because of the many good attractions and learning sites that the province has, both natural and historical. My first visit in this province was way back 2008 during an immersion tour in Angat Dam in the town of Bustos as part of our workshop sites for the National Arts Workshop.

Last June 6 I revisited Bulacan together with my colleagues in the workplace to conduct benchmarking tour to several important watershed reservation areas in Luzon. Fortunately Angat Dam Rainforest Ecopark was included in the itinerary. The first order of the day was to examine the mechanism on watershed conservation and protection in Angat Dam as a main source of potable water supply in Metro Manila. The Angat Watershed Forest Reserve covers approximately 6,000 hectares adjoining the municipalities of San Jose Del Monte, Norzagaray and Rodriguez. It is also a support system to the Ipo Dam.

Our 4-hour travel from Manila to Norzagaray was spoiled by the information that we could not enter the forest reservation area and view deck due to the landslide brought recently by a typhoon in Luzon. We were instead just entertained by some personnel at the main gate and were given short time to observe the facade of the forested site and the more popular Bitbit River. As a major river system of the Angat Forest Reserve, Bitbit River is a natural water park being developed as domestic ecotourism attraction in Norzagaray. There are small open cottages in the downstream portion of the river. The cold flowing water hosts several community members as a cooling place, while the upstream part is a stretch of blue waters being bounded by green tree canopy.

It was a quick stopover in Bitbit River and we directly travelled back to Bustos for our lunch. The group decided to drive all the way to Malolos to visit two interesting historical sites, the Barasoain Church and Museum of Philippine Political History. Officially called Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Barasoain Church is dubbed as the most important building in the Philippines being the site of the First Philippine Republic. From it hails the first revolutionary congress where the first Philippine Constitution was officially declared. It is also the very place where President Emilio Aguinaldo was inaugurated as first president of the Philippine Republic. Century of years later, President Estrada took his oath as the 13th Philippine President in Barsaoain Church. With all these historical significance of Barasoain Church it is referred to as the “Cradle of Democracy in the East.”

Walking distance from Barasoain Church is another important historical attraction in Malolos, the Museum of Philippine Political History. It is located within the Paseo del Congreso, Plaza Rizal in Malolos City. Presently it is operated by the National Historical Commission under the Office of the President. The main entrance of the museum presents a beautiful standing frame of Baybayin Fonts, the old writing system of the Filipino commonly called Alibata. The entire coverage of the museum raises awareness about the country’s government system in the past, as well as a defining site for the Philippine Political History. There are two content in the museum that are truly impressive to me personally, the Writ of Japanese Surrender where an inscription on how the Japanese atrocities ended at the hands of the American was framed in a glass platform; and the other one the Interactive Multimedia equipment wherein a virtual tour can be done by just merely pressing the screen monitor.

Norzagaray and Malolos, two beautiful localities in Bulacan that boosts of two opposite selling points, are definitely good places to visit in Luzon.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Birding in La Mesa Dam Ecopark and UP Los Banos

My latest Luzon trip had me searching for some green spaces in Metro Manila to be able to do birding despite a heavy trip schedules in span of 3 days in the metropolis and key provincial destinations Laguna and Bulacan. I thought of having a long stay in La Mesa Eco Park on June 4 but then again urgent matters on separate cases had to be considered which led me to join a short La Mesa visit in the morning on that same day (Tuesday) along with my colleagues who had their own park tour (not a birding tour).

I had to separate myself from the group because birding with non-birders would never give me the result I desired, that is of course seeing birds and hearing bird sounds. From the park entrance I already saw four Black-naped Orioles passing around the big tree canopy within the parking area. It was humid during that day so I had to leave the group who were still left in the registration booth. Few steps from where I leave them, particularly in the right side of the main road had two Lowland White Eyes moving in company with the widespread Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

As I moved along I noticed there were plenty of people already gathered inside so it was not good already for birding activity. Nonetheless, when I was about to go back from a hike up a stairway through the dam I heard a Hooded Pitta calling near the pond but that was quick it might have disappeared from the site.

On June 5 my target was to seriously explore the University of the Philippines campus in Los Banos where I heard of as a good birding site especially in the college of Forestry where the Botanical Garden is situated. I was told by our guide that the site is the jump off point for mountaineers climbing Mt. Makiling. While walking around in a hot 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon there were only a handful of bird calls I heard made up of Red-keeled Flowerpecker, Collared Kingfisher, White-eared Brown Dove and Yellow-vented Bulbul to name a few.

I was supposed to hike further but I was instructed by the guide not to proceed to the denser part of the forest for safety purposes so I hiked back trail and enjoyed the flora species of UPLB, most notably the huge trees both endemic and native in the Philippines.

It was not the outcome I expected but with the very limited time my birding experience in these two sites was fairly okay.

1. Asian Glossy Starling
2. Red-keeled Flowerpecker
3. Black-naped Oriole
4. Lowland White Eye
5. Philippine Magpie Robin
6. Philippine Pied Fan Tail
7. Olive-backed Sunbird
8. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
9. Golden-bellied Gerygone
10. Large-billed Crow
11. Yellow-vented Bulbul
12. Hooded Pitta
13. Chestnut Munia
14. Collared Kingfisher
15. White-eared Brown Dove
16. Spotted Dove
17. Zebra Dove
18. Brown-throated Sunbird
19. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
20. Pacific Swallow
21. Asian Palm Swift
22. Pied Triller
23. Blue-tailed Bee-eater
24. White-breasted Woodswallow
25. Long-tailed Shrike
26. Coppersmith Barbet

Saturday, June 1, 2019

SMB rocks SarBay Fest 2019

Beach party lovers and weekend warriors flocked to Gumasa in the town of Glan on May 30 up to June 1 for the annual SarBay Festival, an event that has been shaking the province since it was conceptualized. As usual, the jam-packed Gumasa long beach hosts several entertaining activities.

San Miguel Brewery, Inc. (SMB) took part in the celebration by bringing in Manila-based rock band Rocksteddy to provide evening hype during the opening salvo on May 30. The band’s witty mood was a perfect complement to the thrilled crowd which was calculated to have reached to thousands despite of the activity being held on a weekday.  

Aside from the adrenalin it provided, SMB also initiated an environmental advocacy campaign by putting up garbage bins within the vicinity of the event area in order to ensure zero trashes while the show goes on. With organizers employing a paradigm twist in this year’s celebration by making it a “Green Festivity”, SMB provided eco bags and arm sleeves to deserving scavengers as tokens.

Unlike in the previous SarBay Fests, this year’s instalment is quite more exciting due to the fact that organizers put in more weight to environmental aspect because the stretch of Sarangani Bay comprising the towns of Maitum, Kimba and Maasim; more than being a tourism hub, is a declared Protected Seascape by virtue of Proclamation No. 756 series of 1996 to protect and maintain its rich marine biodiversity.

I am deeply honoured to have witness SarBay Fest for three years now. Thank you very much to San Miguel Brewery, Inc., through its Communication Officer Meggy Santos for inviting me to be part of your team this year. It was perhaps a pail of fun joining your media group from Davao City namely: Tats Daval, Maya Padillo and Mark Perandos.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Cebu is better off with a Camotes side trip

Finally I got a good place worth writing for in Cebu and it is the Camotes Island, a secluded site east off mainland Cebu that offers a laidback experience out of a hectic city activities. Camotes Island is a classic definition of simplicity and perhaps a good relief of rather bittersweet weekdays. More often than not my travels are zests of good vibes but this one is an exact opposite. I have been filled with so much frowning due to traumatic experience at home. Nonetheless, it was still a very unforgettable trip and in all honesty it gave me flashes of pessimisms.

The island’s natural attractions made it one of the more promising side trips in Cebu. The caves here offer light and easy spelunking adventure different from other cave destinations in the country. The most attractive to me is Bukilat Cave in the town of Tudela which is highlighted with a natural pool inside and unspoiled speleothem. Timubo and Paraiso caves are also worth a visit and a plunge with its cool waters.

As a tropical island there are equally interesting beaches in Camotes. Good beach resorts are dotted around the four municipalities of the island, most notable among them are Buho Beach, Mangodlong Rock and Santiago Beach. The latter we had a memorable sundown relaxation of beers and grilled seafoods.  

Lake Danao in Pacijan is an important natural piece of Camotes’ heritage. The lake substantiates the natural compactness of the island along with its coastline, underground rivers, caves, waterfalls and mountain ranges. According to local authorities several notable wildlife exist in Lake Danao such as the Philippine Duck. I have not seen one during our visit and I still have a lot of solo tripping to do in the place to explore some of the birds there. Other than some common birds like flowerpeckers, starlings, swallows, shrikes and few waders in Santiago Beach I think there are more interesting species which have yet to be fully documented. Mindanao is for me still a good place for birding.

Camotes Island has been a must-try outlet for Cebu visitors especially this summer. With the province maximizing available transport options for its island tours, Cebu is presently having a good sea transportation mechanism which allowed people to have access to Camotes daily. In our case we took the Mactan wharf, a newly-opened docking area on our way there. The ferry operated by Jomalia Shipping navigates less than two hours through Consuelo Port in Camotes. Another port in Danao is a good alternative as well with bigger RORO boats travelling daily from Consuelo.